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That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #15 January 30, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Tips for Corporate Success.

There’s no reason to show up for a meeting or conference call early, or even on time. No meeting or call starts until five minutes after it’s supposed to.

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who show up early and those who show up late. For a long time, I was an early person — I got to the bus stop early in school, I got to class early in college, I got to work early in my career, and whenever I’m supposed to meet my friends somewhere, I’m early too.

CC-licensed photo by Emery Co. Photo

CC-licensed photo by Emery Co. Photo

But so few people are early people. Most of them are late. And as a result, something that could legitimately be punished in school by detentions, grades, demerits, or being grounded (late for curfew) has become the norm. I’ve got a post developing in my head about the only way to control behavior is to use negative reinforcement, but for now let me just say that the reason we all showed up on time in school and college was because there was a risk of getting in trouble. We still show up to work around the right time — more so if we work where there’s a punch-clock — but if you work in an office, what’s the point? As long as you get in before your boss, who cares?

Once you’re at work, though, time is relative. Is your project finished early? Don’t hand it in because people will expect you to finish things sooner. Are you able to get to that meeting before it starts? That must mean you don’t have enough work to do. No, the safe play is to show up just after the start time. There’ll still be chairs available, and the meeting organizer has been trained to expect at least a quarter of the participants to arrive after the meeting has already started. And of course the organizer will be glad to start over twice — once for the stragglers, and once because the meeting has to be stopped to deal with someone else’s problem.

Been on a conference call lately? What’s the first thing the leader says? “Let’s give everyone five more minutes to get here before we start.” Possibly the twelve most irritating words to people stuck on conference calls. You can’t do anything in five minutes except maybe go to the bathroom or grab a cup of coffee. Just don’t try to brew a new pot — better to drink the acidic sludge someone made at 8:30 than be late and have to start everything over.

The concept of meetings starting late has been so ingrained into the corporate culture that most employees and managers now consider a meeting’s official start time to actually be five minutes late — if you set the meeting for 2:00, mentally everyone thinks “2:05 is fine”. Then they show up later. And later. And later. And pretty soon you’re blocking out well more than an hour to do something that should take no more than thirty minutes, just to make sure everyone shows up and takes away the information they need.

So just stop showing up on time. No one else will bother; why should you?

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for your years of devoted service January 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Free Food!.
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As companies work to save money and cut costs, they’re weighing the PR cost of layoffs against the actual cost of paying severance. You don’t often hear about companies that offer buyouts, but it’s happening quietly at this very moment.

Here at CorporateSpeak, several employees were offered buyouts.* This month, most of them departed (one left in December) with varying degrees of sadness, fanfare, appreciation, and cake.

So how do we honor employees for their dedicated years of service? Let me count the ways:

  1. Three to five months of severance pay.
  2. COBRA payments.
  3. An often-subpar cake.
  4. A few dozen of your fellow employees, many who you don’t see more than once or twice a quarter and wouldn’t know from Adam if you passed them in the grocery store, standing around and making whispered comments about how lame this all is as they wait, cake vultures**, wanting to grab their slice and get out of there as fast as possible. (You’ll have to cut the cake, too.)
  5. Platitudes from your boss — someone who probably doesn’t really appreciate you nor knows what you do, and in fact probably completely changed your job description when she arrived but still made you do your old job too.***
  6. Platitudes from a co-worker who really does know what you do and will really miss you.
  7. A gift that everyone**** chipped in for. It will be tangentially related to your job, but the only way you’ll use it is if it’s a gift card.

The worst part is that you’ll end up crying because you’ll somehow be moved by the pithy speech you give that, instead of excoriating your boss, your industry, and the situation you’re in, will be pleasant and sweet and thankful for “the time I got to spend with all of you.” If you’re really lucky, your co-workers won’t have dragged your family in for that part.

Last year at CorporateSpeak, several people left, two of whom were well-respected and had been around for thirty years or more (we’ve been around a surprisingly-long time). The retirement parties featured catered snacks and drinks, gifts (real ones) from co-workers, a speech by the Big Boss, and an excuse to stand around for an hour. But as more and more people depart, like everything else we’re becoming worn out on goodbye parties, store-bought cake, and standing around pretending we care.

Elaine had it right.

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* Not me, though.

** This term has now been defined on Urban Dictionary.

*** That specifically happened to one person who got bought out at CorporateSpeak, and it is to her that this entry is dedicated. Not that she reads this blog.

**** Everyone, in this case, means about ten people, with the remainder made up for by the boss from her own pocket just to make it seem you’re more valuable than you really are — because if you were really valuable, you’d still have a job.

just because you can doesn’t mean you should January 28, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Overheard.

Using the restroom, unless you have a small child who is learning or you live in a communal-bathroom dormitory and are having competitions of the sort that college students tend to have, is a private thing. There are just certain simple rules of bathroom etiquette that need to be followed at the office.

First among these — outside the general guidelines for men using urinals — is that you do not talk to other people in the bathroom when it becomes clear that they are there to make number two. (Not this one, though.) It doesn’t matter if you see them walk in and go to a stall. It doesn’t matter if you come in and recognize someone’s bag or jacket hanging over the door. There is no excuse whatsoever to intrude on what is a personal and private moment.

Look, we all poop. Every one of us. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. But do you really want to think about what your co-worker (or, worse, your boss) is doing in the next stall? There’s little weirder than stepping into a stall and, as you’re about to do your business, someone says “hey, Jeff, making a deposit before you head out for the weekend?”

How do you react to that? Do you release the hounds anyway? Do you clamp down and wait until you hear that person depart the bathroom? Do you make a witty retort, let it fly, and damn the consequences?

I’m betting most people go with option two — male or female, no one wants their boss to hear those noises. Sure, if you’ve been in the bathroom for ten minutes, your boss knows where you’ve been, but it’s polite not to mention it — especially if you’re feeling sick and your boss is fully aware there’s only one reason for your frequent trips to the bathroom.

This is really directed more toward managers — if you go into the bathroom and do your thing, your employees are likely not going to say anything, but there’s a few awkward situations involving how to talk to management, and one of them is how we the peons react when you make a quip as we’re about to poop.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Please make a note of it.

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the irrelevant commenter January 27, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Staff.
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The Irrelevant Commenter. Have you met the Irrelevant Commenter at your office yet? He’s not hard to miss. He’s a good worker, and he’s good at his job, but he’s not the kind of guy you want in your meeting.

Because he makes the most irrelevant comments you’ve ever heard.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Josh Evnin

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Josh Evnin

Are you talking about a new medication? He might say it sounds like that medicine Kirk gave McCoy in Star Trek III. Are you working on a mock-up for a new webpage? He’ll probably bring up a website he built in high school. Did you say something that is somehow tangentially-related to Rickrolling or lolcats? Well, the Irrelevant Commenter can tellz u how he iz feeling.

Oh, yeah. It’s annoying. And the worst part is this: because this guy is so good at what he does, he works with every department and is in every meeting, and he’s always walking around the building, dropping in on your conversations like a photo bomber. In fact, if you ask him, you’ll find out he probably has been a photo bomber on more than one occasion. Just check his Facebook page (because he of course has incessantly messaged you trying to get you to friend him).

The only way to avoid this guy is to not avoid him. Not as confusing as it sounds; just listen to what he has to say, smile, nod, and move along.

just block out an hour* January 26, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes.
1 comment so far

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user tvol

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user tvol

Have you been invited to a meeting lately? Was it a client meeting? A departmental meeting? A project group, or a training session, or a lunch-and-learn, or an all-staff gathering?

How long did the person who booked it schedule it for?

The same as everyone who schedules a meeting: One hour. 60 minutes. 3600 seconds.

And why? Because half an hour isn’t long enough to get everything done, and 45 minutes just leaves you with enough time to get back to your desk and accomplish nothing before having to go to your next meeting (yeah, they’re back-to-back; they’re always back-to-back). Plus, it looks good on the schedule to block out an entire square of time. The simple scheduling programs offices use to book meeting rooms usually just work on an hourly basis.

Really, though, you have to block out more than an hour. No meeting is an hour. Hour-long meetings never start on time — the organizer has to give five minutes for stragglers to show up and finish socializing. Someone has to peek in at the 15-minute mark. Things have to get completely derailed talking about vacations or stuck on a tiny little point of execution (and the person who brought it up regrets ever opening his or her mouth as a result). Everyone starts checking their watches about ten minutes before the meeting’s over, and everyone who’s not a peon or the meeting organizer gets to up and leave at the one-hour mark (if they haven’t left already — and managers do tend to leave early) because they have more important things to do (so they say).

But the meeting doesn’t end. The meeting was scheduled for an hour, and if the agenda isn’t gotten through, everyone’s staying after class. And even when the meeting ends, it doesn’t end; someone’s going to grab you (it’s always you) and talk to you more about this, or about something totally unrelated, and as a result you’ll either be late to your next meeting or you’ll end up losing your lunch hour (scheduled right between the meetings; more fool you).

So just block out an hour. As the organizer will undoubtedly say, “it won’t take us that long, but just in case…”

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* As I wrote the title of this post, I was struck by the irony of the phrase “block out” in relation to putting something on your schedule, because really, most people just want to block out not only what happens in meetings but also the fact that they exist at all.

when the internet goes down, the world ends January 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Technology Trouble.
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We live in an increasingly-connected world. Our smartphones hit the internet so we can check our e-mail. The first thing we do in the morning is flip on the TV to check the news, weather, and traffic, and our cable, satellite, or DVR boxes probably use the internet to get data. Or we turn on our computers and skim our personalized homepages.

If the internet’s down at home, well, that’s a problem. But we can always go to work, right?


A 404 page in Internet Explorer.

A 404 page in Internet Explorer.

When the internet goes down at work, that’s a whole different story. You can’t check your e-mail. You can’t share documents. You can’t access shared workspaces. You can’t move files from here to there. You can’t update your Facebook without turning on your cell (and even then, you just say “Work internet is down and it sucks. Can’t do anything.”), and you can’t make it look like you’re working when you’re really not. Even the phones might go down if you use VOIP.

When the internet goes down at work, the world ends. No one does any work. Except, that is, for the IT guy, whose job it is to fix it. If it’s a billing issue, the IT guy has to get the accounting department involved. If you work for a big company, local IT and local accounting has to get national IT and national accounting on the phone — a nightmare if you’re on the east coast and your home office is on the west coast, or even just one time zone earlier.

And the worst part? By the time your IT guy’s figured out the problem, the internet has come back up of its own accord and everyone stops you him the hall to ask why the internet went down in the first place. But the IT guy doesn’t know, and if he does, do you really want to hear about packets and sockets and fiber-optic cables*? No, of course not; you just want some pithy IT Guy response so you can go back to your cubicle and laugh at the latest YouTube video Bill in Purchasing found while he was supposed to be working.

But there’s a good part for the employees on the ground. See, when the internet (or the network) goes down, it’s easy to just hole up somewhere and come back an hour or so later and just start working. No one really knows how much work comes out of any one person’s computer, so you can just say your work is late because the internet was down. Most managers (even those who run web departments or work at web-heavy businesses) will accept that excuse because they too took advantage of the outage to goof off, or make phone calls, or play Snake on their woefully-underutilized-but-amazingly-tricked-out smartphone that the company pays for while you yourself have to spend a significant chunk of your pay on a phone and the service to make it work just so you can answer e-mails from sales while you’re trying to play with your kid on a Tuesday night.

I think I’ve gotten off track here, but you get the idea. We hope for internet outages, but we hate internet outages. We can’t get any work done, but we can’t get any goofing-off done either. We can lie to our bosses, but our bosses can lie right back to us. It’s a double-edged sword.

* As you can see, I don’t actually know much about internet architecture.

not all suggestions are good suggestions January 22, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?, Management, Overheard.
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CC-licensed image by Flickr user dampeebe.

CC-licensed image by Flickr user dampeebe.

Our new VP has a problem. See, here at CorporateSpeak Headquarters, we solicit suggestions from our customers. Are we doing something wrong? Something right? Is there something we should be doing? Her brainchild was to put a big e-mail form on our frontpage (and guess who got to build it?) and have everyone in the building receive and respond to these e-mails.

Occasionally, these e-mails contain good ideas. But not all customer suggestions are good suggestions.

It’s just frustrating to be sitting where I’m sitting and listening to her say how great all these suggestions are until *ooh shiny thing* she goes off and does something different, thereby forgetting to make all the things she’s supposed to make for everyone else’s projects.

Just one of those little frustrations.

four corporate stumbling blocks January 21, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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While I was doing some research this week, I came across this article from MediumBlue.com (a SEO company). They published the article as a list of reasons it’s easier for smaller corporations to outsource their SEO than big ones, but I think they apply to corporations as a whole.

A willingness to pursue the channel – Smaller companies are typically more willing to devote resources to natural search engine optimization than large corporations. Huge things have to happen for a major corporation to get involved in this “new” channel, a channel far removed from the traditional marketing methodologies used to build the giant. Few corporate underlings want to be the one to put their neck on the line and recommend something completely new and “unproven”. Even when a large corporation looks into natural search engine optimization as a potential marketing tool, it can take many months, and sometimes years, for a final decision to be made.

It’s that last part that I specifically want to draw attention to: the time factor. At CorporateSpeak, if I want to do something new and cool to our website that I came up with, I have to go to my boss, who has to go to his boss (the Big Boss), the head of content management, and the head of marketing. They all have to put their two cents in. By the time he sits on all three of those people long enough to get them to pay attention, they’ve all already handed down new projects that puts my idea on the back burner for at least two weeks. Then I go back to my boss, he goes back to all those people, and they just don’t say anything.

And, about two months later, the idea is repurposed as something from the marketing department, and it’s got so many bells and whistles on it that a simple list of useful links (for example) has become a gigantic box with a graphical background and multiple colors that don’t match our site scheme.

A willingness to change the company website – Huge corporations face similar problems when it comes to changing to the corporate website. Within such entities, a person can often not get so much as a comma removed from the text of a secondary page without holding several upper-level management meetings and, ultimately, making a board presentation. Smaller, leaner companies are able to approve necessary website changes more quickly, and are almost always more willing to quickly adapt to the needs of both visitors and search engines – a definite plus in the arena of natural search engine results.

This is extremely accurate. I can change small things, but if I want to take away a certain area on the site to build a new promotional piece of code (that will incorporate the old stuff but make it smaller/more efficient), I always lose that battle because our advertisements have already begun pointing people to that area.

Amusingly, when I do get clearance to change something, the moment that happens, I see an ad with the old stuff on it that was just made available to the public and is being congratulated as “the best ad I’ve ever seen!”

The willingness to outsource – Larger companies have more internal resources at their disposal, and are less likely to outsource this specialized service to someone with proven experience. Often, natural search engine optimization is treated as an afterthought and dumped on an IT person, who typically has too much to do already and will approach the problem solely from a technical standpoint. Natural search engine optimization is by necessity a combination of marketing and technology. Newcomers to the field (especially those who treat the discipline as strictly a technical issue) often make fundamental mistakes that at best do not get results and at worst put sites at risk of penalization.

We’ve tried to outsource some of our marketing, but as CorporateSpeak faces the same economic crunch as every other company, the chances of getting money for outsourcing have gone farther and farther down. Even as people depart — almost half a dozen already in 2009 — due to layoffs and a general sense of which way the wind is blowing, we’re expected to do more and more in-house with less and less time — oh, and we’re all salaried, so there won’t be any overtime pay or benefits.

A lack of technical hurdles – Huge corporations are more likely to have technical issues on their website that can prevent search engines from indexing all of their pages. Often the pages of corporate websites are generated “on the fly” from large databases, and such pages (without modification to the URLs) are sometimes never indexed. In addition, (although usability studies are making this happen less often), some huge corporations have their sites built entirely in flash or use other technologies that are virtually invisible to search engines.

In our case, it’s because all of CorporateSpeak runs on the same general site model. I’ve mentioned in the past that I work in the equivalent of the Mac department but the company only pays attention to the PC department. Well, if we’re going to make a change across all our sites, the PC department decides it, then if they remember they tell the one guy who supports the Mac department. He then has to figure out (with no help) how to do it, and eventually it gets handed down to us at the individual branch offices and we have to make it happen. With the PC department, they just insert the code and that’s that.

On the bright side, I’ll never have to worry about a site built entirely in Flash (unless I’m the one building it) because there are no Flash developers working in that capacity at CorporateSpeak. (There’s one guy in California, but Flash isn’t in his job description.)

Recognize these corporate stumbling blocks? Thought so. And, what’s worse, the bigger the company, the more micromanaging happens to ostensibly overcome them. Not that that’ll ever happen.

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That Guy’s Tips for Corporate Success, #14 January 20, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Free Food!, Tips for Corporate Success.
1 comment so far

When employees are free to organize as they please, they will usually do so more successfully than if management was involved.

Since CorporateSpeak is a 24-hour shop, we have employees working every day, including the Seven Major Holidays. Though the blog takes a break on those days, certain members of the manufacturing and content crews are hard at work.

I found an e-mail in CServer the day before Christmas that said:

All employees working Christmas, please bring a dish for the potluck. For information, see Frances Kim.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user webg33k.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user webg33k.

Having worked at CorporateSpeak for a few years, I can attest to the fact that employee potluck lunches tend to go well. Most people bring something, and everyone else buys something. I wasn’t working that day, but I probably would have made macaroni and cheese or something similarly-simple and similarly-easy-to-increase-the-size-of (about 25 people worked Christmas day). I have worked a few Major Holidays, and participated in potlucks, and have been quite pleased with the results.

Of course, when management gets involved, things tend to go south. Some examples:

  • Football Day At The Office: All employees could forgo their regular work attire to wear the gear of their favorite football team (or teams). There was a potluck lunch. One department, however, offered the option to just pay the secretary $5 to $10 so she could purchase enough chicken to serve the entire 250-or-so-person operation. I chose to go with that option because I didn’t have time to cook. There was relatively little interesting food — mostly sides — because everyone chose to just pay.
  • Chili Cookoff: I make a pretty good chili. When the Employee Relations Committee (contains two managers) announced there would be a chili cookoff, I spent the night before making crock-pot chili. Then I carried the crock-pot to work, set it up in the kitchen, and turned it on low about an hour before the official start time. Everyone was pleased with the chili, but only myself and one other person actually followed the directions (make chili or sandwiches). Everyone else just brought in whatever they felt like. The food was good, but there wasn’t much to eat except chili, store-bought sides, and store-bought dessert. Fortunately I also made a gigantic bowl of mashed potatoes to put under the chili.
  • Christmas Food Festival: For the past couple of years, there’s been a building-wide decorating competition and food festival. Many departments brought interesting dishes and it was possible to eat two full meals without difficulty — entrees, sides, and more. I made potato latkes, which went over very well and complemented the various things the other departments in my area brought in. But this year, the decorating competition was cancelled, and I think that took the wind out of the festival. There were only two foods that were not snacks or desserts, and I ended up having to go out to lunch to get anything that wasn’t 100% sugar or carbohydrates.

What have we learned? Simple: when you let the employees figure out what to do on their own, they not only are much nicer and friendlier among themselves (witness the people who bring in donuts or bagels out of the goodness of their hearts every now and then — I’ve done this from time to time), but tend to end up happier with the process. Once management gets involved, people either feel obligated to participate or so disgusted with the restrictions put on the process that they don’t bother at all.

Something to think about.

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you think you’re funny January 19, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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A lot of people aren’t working today because their kids are off school — it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day — so here’s a little light fare for you.

Dilbert, by Scott Adams

Dilbert, by Scott Adams

Apparently what I’m experiencing in the corporate world today was happening in the mid-90s too. Back then, it was a joke. Now it’s a way of life.